Austin transplant Jade Bird and recent resident Nikki Lane team up at Long Center Lawn
When local station Sun Radio announced a series of pop-up broadcasts from offbeat venues during South by Southwest, the lineup was understandably filled with Austin acts. Bands didn’t travel here this year, with SXSW operating as an online-only event in the pandemic, so Sun Radio’s listeners were treated to sets by prominent locals including Shakey Graves, Shinyribs and Erika Wennerstrom.
But also: Jade Bird?
The British singer-songwriter made a big splash at SXSW 2018, winning the coveted Grulke Prize for developing non-U.S. act. Her appearance that year came between the release of an EP and a self-titled full-length for prominent U.S./U.K. label Glassnote, which helped give rise to acts such as Childish Gambino and Chvrches.
Bird’s album topped the U.S. Heatseekers chart for new and developing artists, and she was nominated for the Americana Music Association’s emerging artist of the year award. Somewhere along the way, she decided to leave her home country and move — to Austin.
Bird and Luke Prosser, her partner in both music and life, arrived here in late 2020, not long after she finished recording her second album in Nashville. It’s not out yet, but Bird previewed some of its songs during the March 19 Sun Radio event on an outdoor deck at Z’Tejas Arboretum, sharing the bill with Austin singer-songwriter Erin Ivey.
Both musicians expressed great joy at what they said was their first public gig in more than a year. Just two dozen people were allowed in the limited-capacity, socially distanced setup, but many more listened online or streamed the event via Sun Radio’s YouTube page.
A larger audience will be on hand Saturday at the Long Center Lawn for Bird’s performance as part of the venue’s Long Live Music series, presented with local company Luck Productions. She’ll share the bill with Nikki Lane, an indie-country artist who spent a couple of years in Austin before recently returning to Nashville, and Sir Woman, the burgeoning side-project of Wild Child co-leader Kelsey Wilson.
Tickets to the limited-capacity outdoor event were snapped up quickly. However, Bird and Lane also are performing an indoor-outdoor show on Friday evening at Gruene Hall in New Braunfels. Tickets for that show run $105-$450 for tables that seat six patrons; they are available via gruenehall.com.
Speaking before the Sun Radio performance, Bird confirmed that she and Prosser are “really kind of permanent residents now. We got a little doggie we adopted from Austin Pets Alive.”
Asked why she chose Austin, Bird said she’d responded favorably to her previous visits on tours and for SXSW, which she played for the first time in 2017 when she was still in her teens. “I’ve always wanted to live in America, and I wanted somewhere that was quite grounded,” she said. “Austin just felt perfect for us.”
In a recent on-air interview with Sun Radio DJ Suzanna Choffel, Bird recalled playing a show at South Congress Avenue venue C-Boy’s Heart & Soul during that first SXSW visit. She expressed fondness for the venue, which she said “totally reminds me of this blues bar I used to play in London where I really earned my stripes, playing there every weekend.”
Exactly how Bird will fit into the local scene long-term as live entertainment opens back up is not yet clear. “I’m kind of debating how to play Austin, whether to do underplays or do a big show,” she said. The Long Center Lawn gig is more of the latter; another is in the works for June, when she’s tentatively set to tape an episode of the PBS series “Austin City Limits.”
She’s also eager to get back on tour once her new album comes out. Bird recorded it with red-hot producer Dave Cobb, whose credits include blockbuster albums by Jason Isbell, Brandi Carlile and Chris Stapleton. “I definitely think this is the best thing I’ve ever made,” she said.
A release date has not yet been set, but she’s already issued a few singles. A live video for the album track “Houdini” features Bird and Prosser performing in darkness in a gravel lot alongside railroad tracks in Austin.
Before Bird's Long Center lineup-mate Lane moved back to Nashville, she spent a couple of years living in a house on the grounds of South Austin music hideaway Sam’s Town Point.
“I had so much fun there,” Lane said of her time in Austin, noting that she spent the first seven weeks of the pandemic here. She returned to Nashville in mid-2020, largely to tend to her store High Class Hillbilly, which specializes in vintage Western wear.
Lane just finished making a new record of her own in Los Angeles, with Queens of the Stone Age leader Josh Homme producing. Like Bird, she’s waiting until the touring landscape for 2021 becomes clearer before setting a release date for the album.
In the meantime, she recently racked up an impressive co-writing credit: Chart-topping pop star Lana Del Rey included “Breaking Up Slowly,” a song the two wrote together while Lane was opening some shows for Del Rey a couple of years ago, on her new album “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.”
Lane also sings backup on the track, which she said “was written in about a 30-minute hang right when I showed up to the hotel” one night on tour. Del Rey got in touch later when she started working on a new record: “She was like, 'Send me that song!'”
Lane and her then-boyfriend, Dallas musician Jonathan Tyler, had created a demo version while quarantined in Austin, and they sent it along. Lane added intriguingly that she and Del Rey have since written a few more country songs together.
While the Long Center Lawn gig will be a first for Bird, it’s the second time in six months that Lane has performed there. She took part in Luck Productions' tribute to the late Billy Joe Shaver in November, singing “Ride Me Down Easy” and “Black Rose” with Charlie Sexton and the house band.
"Anything with Luck is fun and an adventure; they pull off so many of my dreams," Lane said of the company tied to Willie Nelson's Luck TX ranch outside of Austin. "I've loved getting to be a part of the Luck family and their vision, and to see the events they pull off."